Black history month has been a feature in UK schools for several years but has it made an impact on students and educators alike. I don’t just mean pupils and teacher of colour either.Things that don't make you immune to racism, Dating a person of colour. Engaging with friends of colour. Loving ethnic cuisine. Ascribing to another protected characteristic. Learning and speaking another language. Having PoC in your… Click To Tweet
The lack of representation in our school’s curricula is an obvious problem; I have repeatedly called for the need to decolonise our thinking, delivery as well as the content.
While black history Month delivers fresh insights and introduces new concepts and constructs to our teachers and pupils, I would question the ‘why’, the purpose and the intended impact behind the month.
If the purpose of black history month is to raise awareness of black figures throughout history, I would say that, at least in part, the current practice in schools achieves this. Is the purpose of black history month is to reduce inequity through portraying a more authentic version of history-changing the lives of our pupils. I would say Black history month indeed fails spectacularly.
I have often thought that any inclusion of people of colour into our curricula Is a good thing. However, the only way we make any initiative sustainable is through integrating change into our day to day lives.
The issues with black history month is that it often falls into the realm of tokenism. It merely provides most people with an excuse when challenged on the diversity and the suitability of the curriculum.
The issues with black history month is that it often falls into the realm of tokenism. It merely provides most people with an excuse when challenged on the diversity and the suitability of the curriculum. Click To Tweet
Let me ask the question. How does your curriculum serve the pupils of colour in your school? How does it help those pupils racialised is white?
Black history is simply history; although this may sound like a deliberate flippant comment, it is the absolute truth. Not recognising the achievements of the global majority and answering with we have a month where we include black people into the history faculty is nothing but a copout.
Not recognising the achievements of the global majority ALL YEAR round is not only lazy; it is damaging.
In its current form, black history month provides the anti-racist pill, which stops people from thinking they uphold the structures which support white supremacy. I’m sure you can see the dangers here. Well-meaning people, instead of interrogating their own experiences and the resulting bias, swallow this pill and feel they are doing right by their pupils.
Which figures are you incorporating for these four weeks? How many are experts in their field?
Now remove the people of colour who are there because they fought for freedom. Rebellion is not all people of colour can achieve. I could list hundreds of thousands of examples of excellence, but how teachers ever learn if they never do the work?
But Pran this is a start?
Yes, it is a start, but how long is it going to be a start? How long do we continue to provide this get out of jail card? This panacea?But Pran this is a start? Yes, it is a start, but how long is it going to be a start? How long do we continue to provide this get out of jail card? This panacea? Click To Tweet
Do I think it’s wrong to incorporate black people and their stories for one month? I would say if it’s not interwoven into your day-to-day life as a school community, it likely does more damage than good.
What to do?
First, interrogate your ‘why’?
Why are you as a school leader, teacher and school engaging in black history month?
- It’s what we do.
- I’m told to do it.
- So pupils of colour do not feel let out.
- To introduce figures which are not usually in our curricula.
The evaluate if your actions achieve that goal.
I would say most of the above is achieved relatively easily with current models. If your ‘why’ something along the lines of,
At Pran Patel Academy, we believe that inclusivity, citizenship and knowledge are the pillars of our school society. Through incorporating a wide array of global experience into our curriculum ensures a more accurate, a more authentic and fairer curriculum. Our curriculum fosters inclusivity and creates an environment where global citizens thrive.Through incorporating a wide array of global experience into our curriculum ensures a more accurate, a more authentic and fairer curriculum. Our curriculum fosters inclusivity and creates an environment where global citizens thrive. Click To Tweet
Then we have work to do.
Let talk about the content you will be teaching, are you solely teaching about black people who have rebelled, fought and won their rights? Although I think this recognition is essential without paying credence to the vast achievements of black people, this further enshrines the false impression of master and servant.
The servants rebelled and won their freedom but achieved nothing before or after their servitude.
We have to remind ourselves that we grew up in a system which taught us that some people achieved more than others. Undoing this ‘inculcated epistemology’ although arduous is a journey we have to take before propagating to our pupils.
Now within your subject areas, you have to look at the
What I wrote next may be contentious; well, let’s be honest pretty much all I write can be read as controversial. What do you mean by Black? This week Dr. Muni Abdi pointed out that the concept of Black history month came from the USA, where the word Black has completely different connotations to the UK.
- Politically black?
- The global majority (around 80% of the world population)?
- Those of African descent?
- Those who were born in Africa?
- People of dual heritage?
What do you want to be the focus your ‘month’? All of the above are very different categories. Your answer here is inconsequential as you control the school culture.
October has 31 days, the school year has typically 36 weeks, you can see where I am going with this. If your ‘why’ values the contributions of Black people surely this should be a part of your culture.
A day a week incorporating the curriculum around a figure and more critically the achievement, (I’m not talking about the civil rights movement, which is the usual go-to).
Yes, this is difficult, but if it is important enough to incorporate into a month, it is important enough to incorporate into the week. Then next year pick another day, and in 4 years we have a representative curriculum.
- What is the purpose of Black history month?
- Who do you include under the label of Black?
- Evaluate if what you are planning will achieve that purpose.
- Consider spreading the month across the year.
- Provide time for staff to plan in figures in their subject areas, to discover the truth around the knowledge we have accepted.